Note added 20 July 2021: Since this article was published in October 2020, there has been no change to the default functionality of YouTube. Only the video mentioned has this new feature enabled, and we have not heard any news from YouTube if or when this might be rolled out more widely. We thus continue to recommend that content creators create a second version of their film with Audio Description mixed in, or ensure that the film is accessible to start with. Contact [email protected] for film AD services for artists and arts organisations.
A trailer for an upcoming game, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the first YouTube video to implement a new accessibility feature: an additional descriptive audio track for visually-impaired viewers. Like the closed captions option, this audio track feature can be toggled on or off via the gear icon on the bottom right side of the video player.
This is big news for audio description and accessibility. To date, to make an audio-described video on YouTube, you have to upload a second version and label it as audio-described within the title. Some content makers don’t like to do this, because they are concerned that non-blind people will be confused by seeing two versions of the same video. We’ve seen organisations leave the AD version unlisted, and only make it accessible via a link in the description: making it very difficult to find, either by browsing or searching, unless you’re sent a link directly.
So, while this new feature is obviously a good thing, there are still plenty of questions to ensure that videos using it can be found and the AD used. Will synchronisation be spot on? How does an audio description user know in advance that the feature is used? Will it be possible to search only for films that have descriptive audio added? Will it be possible to link to the video with the descriptive audio pre-selected? Will YouTubers be able to create playlists of videos with the descriptive audio set as default? ‘Should there be specific wording in the title or ‘about’ section to flag that AD is available? And finally, will content creators be able to see how many users opt to use the AD version – as they currently can when the AD is a stand-alone version. Having analytics of usage is really important for gauging popularity and success.
VocalEyes is also using and promoting the use of Audio Introductions at the start of audio-described films – describing the setting, characters and the visual world of the video in advance, just as we do in theatre audio description. Here’s one we recently produced of Romeo & Juliet filmed at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2019. What will happen to these Audio Introductions if the ‘separate AD version’ disappears?
Lots of questions, and we’d love to hear your thoughts. Obviously YouTube might not get everything right straight out, and these things might evolve. Comments are open on this post, let us know what you think, and on Twitter as well.